This week, I spent some time talking all thing Support with Sean Tanos!
Sean is Head of Customer Support at Kindred AI, which builds solutions that combine AI with advanced robotics and a full suite of integration and support services. Sean’s been there for just about 5 months, and in support leadership for 7 years altogether.
Hi Sean! Thanks so much for talking with me today! I always like to start at the beginning… what was your first customer service role?
My grandmother forced the local grocery store into hiring me! A lifetime of retail later I got laid off in 2008 and fell into a Tier 1 Tech Support role at a Call Centre. Eventually, I was promoted into support leadership from there.
I transitioned from being a member of the team to being a leader of a team, taking over for someone who was already there, but who was basically being moving back into a non-leader role.
Navigating that relationship and making sure we maintained a great working relationship was a real challenge. We did, though! I haven’t been with that company now in 4 years we still chat.
In addition, I was truly put into the position to work on pushing another member of the team out the door as his performance was subpar. He ended up taking a role outside the company during our PIP process.
Wow, quite the baptism of fire! Do you have any particular lessons from that?
I believe empathy, and inclusivity are key qualities in a good support leader. They carry to so many parts of our work, including the people leadership. I work with each member of my team to find out what they wish to learn, and then work within the department to provide them with those opportunities.
Beyond that, we have to be pragmatic and think about how we, and our teams can succeed. We measure Customer Satisfaction and other KPI adherence. I love metrics. They allow you to analyze performance without having to worry about your own internal biases.
In leadership, there are a lot more difficult conversations than I imagined. Not just performance-related, but people tend to open up a lot more about their personal life than expected.
The first time I had to let go an agent for performance issues. I had dedicated a lot of my time to the success of the employee and unfortunately, they didn’t succeed. I have a lot of empathy so it was very difficult to sever their working relationship.
I always aim to develop my own skills. I constantly read. I spend a few hours each day reading material related to leadership. Linkedin articles, HBR articles, and following AskAManager.
Ultimately, your team is your best resource, though. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable with them, they will teach you how to be a great manager. They will want you to succeed as much as you want them to succeed.
I know you worked in retail before support. Do you have any great customer stories to share there?
When I was in retail I worked as an overnight cashier and I had an older couple that would come in every morning about 2am to buy snacks for their movie night. Each night we would chat about the movies they were watching, or their history. When she became ill, he started coming by himself. When he found out I was leaving, even though she was ill she came in to say goodbye and they bought me a really nice tie, that I still have 20 years later.
That’s so lovely! Have you had any correspondingly awful experiences?
Yes! Working as a Support Manager at a SaaS company and we were getting hit with a DDOS attack over several days which affected our customers’ ability to do their work. I took an escalation call and was told and I quote, “Three days ago I would have listened to your excuses, but not anymore. This is like I’m going to a restaurant and the chef is poisoning me. I don’t care why the F##$ I’m being poisoned, I just want you to stop F#$#@$$# poisoning me.” I pride myself on my ability to calm down angry customers, but this one I could not calm down, and ended up escalating myself to their account manager.
You said I should ask you about a silly situation.. what’s the story there?
I spent over an hour troubleshooting a lady’s computer. Every day when she came into the office her computer was turned off, everyone else’s machine was locked but hers was powering down.
Digging through Windows logs I see that the computer gets turned off every day between 5:30 and 6, and suggest maybe the cleaning crew was unplugging it to plug in their vacuum and asked if she would be willing to stay late. She told me that was about the time she usually left. Asked her to walk me through the process she goes through when she leaves…”I go to start, and then shut down.”…..
The craziest part? She called back 2 months later….with the same issue!
Did you tell her to switch it off and on again? 😉 … lastly, I have to ask, what’s your favourite way to sign off an email?
Best ( 😛 ) kidding, kidding. I usually use “Thanks!”
I’m so glad you’re kidding! As some people will know, I’m on a mission to change the world! (Or maybe the word…)
Thanks so much for your time, Sean!
Watch this space for another CS leadership story next week!